Many of us wouldn't admit it, but when younger, our first action on seeing a group of toadstools in the local park or woodland might have been to kick them over. We did it for no obvious reason, nothing we could justify, even then. It was an act of seemingly wanton destructiveness, rural vandalism. Yet I have always believed that it was something borne of an innate and long inherited superstition, a quite erroneous judgement with a lineage back to ancient times. For centuries, these extraordinary objects that appeared, almost literally overnight, were perceived as abnormal growths, productions of the earth itself, as sinister as they were mysterious. And for reasons that no-one has satisfactorily explained, the British Isles have long been at the forefront of these outdated notions, the epicentre of fungiphobia. This is all a strange and sad irony because, scientifically, we have always been in the vanguard of the study of fungi - the science of mycology. Our mycologists have long been amongst the finest and our national body, the British Mycological Society, is the largest in the world. And within Britain, the forests, fields and mountains of Scotland offer some of the richest habitats for fungi that you will find anywhere.
Only in relatively recent times have those ancient and ill-founded beliefs gradually been replaced by understanding, knowledge and an appreciation of the remarkable organisms that fungi are. But even today, fungi feature inadequately on our school and university syllabuses and are still too often considered to be deviant plants - to which they aren't even remotely related.
So let the wonderful Scottish heritage of wild fungi help put right this wrong. Let your walks and excursions be enlivened by the beauty of form and the colours of the great diversity of the fungi that you will see. Enjoy and admire them, be stimulated to learn a little more about the way they go about their fascinating lives and realise that the mushrooms and toadstools that you see are but the tip of a great biological 'iceberg' below the soil surface, under the bark, on the leaves and everywhere else in the environment. Mushrooms and toadstools are merely the large and obvious reproductive structures of organisms that stretch in almost limitless microscopic growth beyond our sight. Fungi are the great unseen and unappreciated providers of the natural world, assisting the supply of essential nutrients and other chemicals that power life in every environment and every habitat. Be amazed and entranced by some of the greatest marvels that Scottish nature has to offer.
Stefan Buczacki, Author and Broadcaster, Former President of the British Mycological Society.